On a rainy Friday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps were starstruck as the visiting LA Galaxy continued their strong form and broke the Caps apart in the second half. Vancouver did well the first half, not allowing the Galaxy to pick up a shot on target while creating a few good chances of their own, but all the good work they did was undone in the second half as some sloppy marking tore them apart in an 8 minute period around the 63rd minute, nullifying their bid at a second consecutive clean sheet. While once again the Caps showcased positive improvement, they lacked the final touch in front of goal, especially in the first half. Had they buried their chances, it could have been a different game as they instead let Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company stay in the game. Despite a slow start from the star Swede, he woke up in the second half, missing a point blank chance and scoring a disallowed goal, before picking up an assist on the first goal and grabbing the second himself. He gave what many of the fans had come to see, a goal and plenty of his famed charisma, making his first trip to Vancouver a successful one for him and his team. The Caps will go back into training disappointed after this one, and hope to find their finishing boots before making the trip over to Chicago for next Friday’s showdown with the Fire.
The Caps came out strong in the first half. They defended well once again, nullifying much of the LA threat. They countered in numbers, finding the pockets of space and getting chances to get an early lead. Less than a minute in, as fans still filed through the door, Lass Bangoura won a penalty kick, giving the Caps a chance to get on the board and shut down some of the very vocal Zlatan fans in the stadium. Newcomer Ali Adnan was tipped to take it, giving him a chance to open his MLS account and make me look like a genius for predicting a goal from the Iraqi international. After seeing him shoot the ball at training on thursday, it was expected that he would slam the ball into the top corner and leave no doubt in the minds of fans that he had arrived in MLS. But for whatever reason, be it because Zlatan and his chip last week had inspired him, or because he thought that his powerful left foot would be good disguise, Adnan attempted the panenka, attempting to dink LA’s David Bingham. Bingham went flying the wrong way, but Adnan delivered probably one of the worst renditions of the chip that I have seen in my lifetime. It barely reached the goal, and allowed Bingham to completely recover after diving the wrong way. It was a nightmare start, as the Caps would have benefitted massively from the opening goal boost, especially after a 0-0 draw last week. Here is a video of the Panenka.
While I do not have a problem with trying a panenka, it should have been done at a different moment. Your first touch of the match, while just getting into the flow of things, should not be a move like that, which requires a precise touch. While Adnan ended up having another great game, it did put a damper on his performance.
The Caps continued to create chances after that, getting the ball to Joaquin Ardaiz, picking up a start after Fredy Montero’s struggles in the last match out against Seattle. Ardaiz ended up 1v1 with Bingham not long after the penalty, but the keeper came out confidently and got fingertips to the ball. It was a good strike from the young Uruguayan, giving the keeper a lot to do. If he keeps creating chances like that, he will start to score goals relatively soon.
The backline looked organized once again, as the threat of Ibra loomed. They mopped up a lot of the balls meant for his head, putting in a professional first 45 minutes. After witnessing the first clean sheet in a long time last week, there was hope that an even rarer back-to-back one was in the cards heading into half time. The Caps probably won the half in terms of how they played, and probably just lamented some poor finishing heading into the locker room. They could have created a bit more, as they were pretty wasteful with the final passes, but fans should not push the panic button quite yet, as it appears to be coming.
LA came out firing the second half, as Guillermo Barros Schelotto must have given his troops some wise words back in their dressing room, as they got back on their game. Zlatan got into the game, chesting down balls and spraying them to his teammates, after being pretty anonymous the first half. The LA wide players started to whip in some better balls, giving Vancouver a lot more to work for after a tamer first half. One of those balls ended up in the danger zone in front of Maxime Crepeau, as he made a rare mistake, fumbling the ball right to the last man on the field that you would want to be there, Zlatan. But, for whatever reason, we saw the rare human side of Ibrahimovic, as he shanked the ball wide, much to the chagrin of his many fans in attendance. It fired up the Southside, as Caps fans still believed that they could pick up that elusive first victory.
Not long after, Ibrahimovic ended up all alone in front of goal, after a testing long ball got behind the Vancouver defence, ending up on his favoured right foot. He slammed it home, sending the Ibra fans into a joyous roar, but the Assistant Referee called it off for offside. It was ominous signs from the striker, as the Galaxy continued to press and chase that goal.
The Caps were unable to weather the storm, as poor marking undid them in the second half. Jake Nerwinski ended up in no man’s land, marking Ibrahimovic on the wrong side of the field as the big striker took him on one-on-one. Ibra cut in, whipping in a tasty ball that ended up in the net courtesy of Daniel Steres, as the defender scored unmarked from what should have been Nerwinski’s position. It was once again a disappointing mistake from him, as it gave the Galaxy the goal that they so badly needed. While there was a lot to be said at how poorly the Caps recovered after the set-piece leading up to the goal, everyone was still in their natural position besides Nerwinski.
And like the weather on the day, when it rained it poured, as not long after Ibrahimovic scored the goal that many fans had waited so badly to see. He took advantage of a well time overload that left him and Joe Corona both on Erik Godoy, allowing for Zlatan to bring down the ball with an exquisite chest touch that led the ball to his curling right foot that in turn slammed the ball into the roof of the net. It was a classy finish from a top player, as he showcased the skill he has brought to the field for close to 2 decades now.
The Caps were unable to muster up a goal, coming close on a few occasions, including a nice Adnan strike from distance and a low Reyna effort sizzling just past the post. It was a disappointing end to a positive start from the Caps, leaving many fans disappointed as they chased that first victory. Overall, there was progress once again, so until the wins come around, there is no reason to be too mad as long as we continue to see improvement. Changing the DNA of the Caps is taking time, and that’s perfectly okay. Especially in MLS, where finishing the season strong is more important than starting well, it can be easier to stomach a swoon like this one.
Maxime Crepeau had a good first half, confidently claiming crosses and getting the ball upfield. He is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, allowing for the Caps to play at the back quite nicely. Thanks to that, the backline looked very comfortable on the ball during the match, keeping the ball on the floor when needed but also using Ardaiz and Adnan as long ball safety outlets as well. While Crepeau bundled the ball that led to the rare Ibra miss, there was not much he could do on the first goal with the marking. He got sent the wrong way on the second, but not many people are saving a Zlatan Ibrahimovic volley from how close he was. Overall, solid outing.
The centre backs were solid as well, with the lone blemish probably being the two goals. Doneil Henry was the better of the two once again on the night, showing off the enormous growth he has made since returning to MLS. He dealt with the Ibra assignment wonderfully, putting in some nice tackles and keeping the Swede relatively quiet in the middle. Him and Erik Godoy got overloaded where Nerwinski was supposed to be on the first goal, leaving them to mark 3 guys, which made it tougher than it needed to be. While the backline could have shifted its alignment to compensate for Nerwinski, that would have been led by Adnan or Erice, who were right behind Nerwinski when he went out to close down Zlatan. Henry and Godoy had their hands full, leaving the man back post unmarked to nod home. On the second goal, Godoy got overloaded as mentioned, leaving him in a tough spot. Henry was already taking care of another guy, leaving Godoy in a bit of a pickle. Overall, good moments from the pair, and despite some people being skeptical about them I remain confident in them for now.
Out at full back, Ali Adnan had another good performance, showing off his dribbling acumen as well as his crossing ability. While much was made of his penalty attempt, he recovered from it nicely, rebounding to turn in a solid performance. While many players would have been buried mentally after failing something like that, he kept his head up and did what he had to do. He has a lot of class, especially going forward, giving Dos Santos a threat from that left side. He defends well, keeping right wingers in check, shoring up that left side nicely after it being a pre and early season concern.
Across from him was Nerwinski, who as mentioned had his struggles the second half. He was solid the first half, as he was barely noticeable, usually good when it comes to full backs. He did what he had to do defensively, and he was adequate going forward, playing some nice one-twos with Bangoura and the rotating midfielders. Friday may be a good moment to bring in Scott Sutter for Nerwinski, as Nerwinski’s struggles defensively have been rough at times, but I believe that he will bounce back from this rough patch and give the Caps what he knows he can give in the coming weeks.
In midfield, we saw an interesting experiment as 4 central midfielders were deployed by Dos Santos. It worked well in the first half, as Felipe, Erice, Teibert and Hwang all rotated coming deep, giving the Caps lots of options to play out the back. They were able to overload LA’s midfield three, giving the Caps more control in that part of the park. It was a good performance from the quartet, despite many folks online giving a lot of stick to Felipe and Teibert, in particular. Teibert looked solid once again, as his energy can be quite tenacious. Despite recovering from the shoulder injury, he still gets stuck in and presses as well as anyone. While many folks lament his nature to pass backwards, he did make some good passes forward as the Caps continue to improve their possession-based game. He went forward when it presented itself, but was not afraid to use Felipe and Erice behind him when things closed down, giving space for them to move it forward. There appeared to be a good understanding between them.
Felipe had a good game as well, getting stuck in, defending well and moving the ball quicker than in previous games. While he may not have the mobility of Hwang, he transitions the ball well while providing tenacity in the midfield. Erice was good as well, as he played the ball in between the lines a lot better than he had in previous matches. He was getting the ball up to Ardaiz and the fellow midfielders, getting them in dangerous positions and getting the ball away from the back. He is a good player and can be a good utility option for the Caps going forward.
Hwang was good as well, despite playing in a weird withdrawn number 10 role. He ended wide a fair bit, getting some balls in the box and having a great cut back saved after his shot lacked the fizz needed to beat Bingham. When he cut into the middle, he caused a lot of damage with his passing and footballing IQ. He passes the ball very well, bringing a cutting edge to the midfield 4. You’d have to think that the goals will come soon for him, as he has done well to get into dangerous positions in the matches. He has been a bright spot on the team so far.
Up front, that left Ardaiz and Bangoura. Bangoura started positively, dribbling well enough to win a penalty. He is a creative force and you can tell how much he loves having the ball at his feet. It was disappointing to see the Caps constantly overload the left side and not switch the ball to Bangoura on the right, as he could have torched the full backs all night long. He does well enough when coming deep, but with his speed and ability, the Caps need him taking on defenders. They can definitely utilize him better than they have, as he can provide moments of magic as shown so far.
Ardaiz did well enough in his first MLS start. He got some chances, bullied some defenders and had some nice flicks. He is a frustrating player as he can be very lazy, as shown in some periods of the match, but he provides a different option up front with his size and footwork. Ardaiz will be a much needed presence as Montero tries to rediscover his form. While I do not know who will start on Friday against Chicago, Ardaiz has shown himself to be a solid option.
Venuto looked good once again, as he looks to be a good super sub for Dos Santos, who appears to like him in that role. Him coming on/off for Bangoura appears to be the Caps version of the Ross Barkley for Matteo Kovacic substitution at Chelsea, but it has worked pretty well so far. I would like to see both of them together one game soon, but Venuto has looked good off the bench. Reyna looked decent, but he looks a bit off the standard we’re used to from him. He looks like he could use a confidence booster, as he chases the form that brought him to great heights last season. It will be interesting to see how he evolves, as he has always been a strong finisher to seasons. Lastly we had Montero, who was brought on as the Caps chased a goal. His touch looked a bit off again, and his frustration was visible as he took out a few LA players, a rare sight from the usually calm Colombian. He looks like he needs a goal and some confidence badly, and hopefully this rough patch doesn’t drag on too long.
BTSvancity Player to Watch:
Our first miss in this spot, as Reyna only played around 25 minutes. He did not start for the second consecutive game, surprising after earning his call-up with Peru. He did have some chances when coming on, but he still does not seem entirely comfortable with the Dos Santos possession system. He could use a shot of confidence right now, so hopefully he can get back to the level we know he can play at.
Always tough to pick a man of the match in a game like this one, so we’ll give some love to the middle of the park and go with Felipe as MOTM, with Hwang, Teibert and Erice not far behind. The midfield had a good outing today, led by Felipe who got the ball forward, worked his tail off defensively and showed good leadership. There may not be a more polarizing figure than him on this Caps team, as many people are split on them. If he continues to have games like today, hopefully it can quiet his doubters.
Honourable mentions: Jon Erice, Hwang Inbeom, Rusell Teibert.
Moment of the Match:
The match was summed up by the streaker who came on the field after LA had gone up 2-0, as he ran up to the attraction on the night, wearing a Swedish jersey, asking Zlatan for an autograph. Zlatan obliged, as he signed the kids shirt before the young lad got arrested by police. It was a pretty cool moment for Zlatan, a disappointing one for security and quite disappointing one for the city of Vancouver. I’ll touch more on that one later in this piece.
I’ll give it to Zlatan on the night, he put on a show. He stayed long after the game to give tons of autographs and give attention to the fans that had come out to see him. Many stars will give a couple autographs and leave, but Zlatan knows how popular he is and he understands the importance of giving back. While the overwhelming Zlatan support in BC Place was annoying, I respect what he does and I’ve always liked him as a player.
The last point leads me into my rant. I did not see the Felipe quote at halftime until after the game (it’ll be down in quote of the match), it summed up my feelings on the match pretty well. While Zlatan is a world icon and a hero for many, it was disappointing to see many turn up just for the presence of the Swede. While I was pleased to see him in person and it was amazing to see his skills at work in a live setting, it’s important to support our club first and not forget priorities. While ticket sales are great and all, it would be nice if we could be getting similar fans and noise not for opposing players but for the home team. My frustration is not with the LA travelling supporters, who were great, or the Caps supporters, who did excellent jobs, but the people who fawned over Ibrahimovic all match, especially those wearing Caps gear. Yeah, it may have been frustrating to see the Caps lose again, while the team with the big name beats us yet again, but fans have to understand that it is a process and if they do not wish to be part of the process it may be best to find a new team. Come support your local team, help out, have a good time. It’s also slightly ironic, that many of those who come are people that rarely watch MLS, or people that may say the standard of the league is poor, but all of a sudden come out in droves to see their favorite international stars. I do respect people going to get his autograph after the match, as he is a world-class player and I have done the same with some names over the years, but supporting your local team should come first. Recognize greatness, and if he scores a signature hat trick or a crazy bicycle kick then you can cheer and give him a standing ovation. It makes things fun for MLS to have great home atmospheres, to have jeering and cheering and make the away team feel uncomfortable. While I get fans clamour for big names, it shouldn’t impact your investment into the team. I’m curious to see what happens if the Caps do well, especially if they dont bring in a name, as fans will have no reason to come but for good football. Gonna be interesting to see what happens when Wayne Rooney comes to down in August.
Interesting to compare the heat maps of either team, as the Caps really pressed high on the night. It was more like a 4-2-3-1, similar to what LA was playing. LA’s midfield collapsed inside a lot, and the Caps were good in that matchup. Feel like they could have played Bangoura behind the high full backs a little more.
Quote of the Match:
“I think this is kind of sad, because it’s for him but should be for us because we are playing (at) home. No matter who comes here, got to come to support us and cheer harder than ever for us, not for the opponent”-Felipe Martins at Halftime to TSN
Felipe got the nail on the head here, it was disappointing to see and hopefully we see some more support for the home team from neutrals, especially as the team starts to win.
Alexandre: 2-0 Caps, Reyna and Adnan the scorers.
Karim: 2-1 LA, Ibrahimovic and Corona for LA, Ardaiz for Vancouver
Keveren: 1-1, Ibrahimovic for LA, Inbeom for Vancouver
Jan: 2-2, Bangoura and Ardaiz for Vancouver, Ibrahimovic and Alessandrini for LA.
Felix: 2-1 Vancouver, Felipe and Bangoura scoring for the Caps, Alessandrini for LA
Bryan: 2-1 Vancouver, Adnan and Hwang for Vancouver, Ibrahimovic for LA
Alex fails to pick up a point, Karim gets out of the basement with a big 3 point night, while Bryan, Jan and Keveren each pick up a point. Felix is shut out. Should be a good race throughout the season.
Alex: 7 Points
Karim: 6 Points
Jan: 6 Points
Keveren: 4 Points
Felix: 1 Point
Bryan: 1 Point
The Caps travel to Chicago to play Bastian Schweinsteiger and company next Friday. Chicago has been all over the place, picking up 4 points from 4 games. It should be a good road matchup, and a chance for the Caps to get that elusive first victory. If the Caps are going to continue to grow, it’s a good a chance as any as they will have to get their first victory on the board. Should be a good one.
April 12th, 17:30 PST, Chicago